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Blue Christmas: Police balance work, family over holidays

For the McShane family, Christmas won't come until Jan. 5. That's the day when members of the extended family can find time to get together for the seasonal celebration. For many law enforcement officers, like Sgt. Matt McShane of the Duluth Poli...

T12.24.2018 -- Steve Kuchera -- 122518.N.DNT.CopXmasC3 -- Duluth Police Department Sgt. Matt McShane visits with officers taking their lunch break at the West Duluth Police Station on Monday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Duluth Police Department Sgt. Matt McShane visits with officers taking their lunch break at the West Duluth Police Station on Monday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
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For the McShane family, Christmas won't come until Jan. 5.

That's the day when members of the extended family can find time to get together for the seasonal celebration.

For many law enforcement officers, like Sgt. Matt McShane of the Duluth Police Department, it can be an annual challenge to squeeze in the traditions many people are observing on Christmas.

"All of our families have to adjust to us working shift work," said McShane, a 20-year veteran. "We try not to impact our kids. But when our kids wake up and Santa Claus has come, sometimes that's just something we have to miss. We try to do the best we can to spend some time with our immediate and extended families, but often that's just not on Christmas."

McShane and the patrol group he supervises returned to work Monday to start their four-day rotation.

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Officers working the streets today won't have much time to celebrate the holiday, he said, though everyone signed up to bring a favorite family dish for a potluck meal.

"It never fails that all of us can't sit down together," McShane said, citing the need to respond to calls. "But we try to get some groups in at a time so we'll be able to at least have a home-cooked meal."

Duluth police Sgt. Jim Lesar has the night shift on Christmas Eve and Day.

"If you live in town and have a family, especially with kids, we'll try to take a turn and cover for each other so you can maybe get home and see your kids before it's too late and they have to go to bed," said Lesar, whose own children are now adults.

"You miss a lot of holidays with them over 25 years. Sometimes you're getting home in the morning and trying to get an hour or two of sleep before getting up to do presents with them and then going back to bed so you're ready for the next night."

The work itself is generally pretty slow on the holiday, officers said, though they need to remain fully staffed and prepared for anything that might arise.

"Most people are at home with their families, businesses are closed, people are just spending that time with loved ones," McShane said. "Where people are traveling, we'll have car accidents and things like that, but these folks want to get home to spend time with their families, so we do our best to try to get them on the way as fast as we can."

Sgt. Neil Dickenson of the Minnesota State Patrol has spent many Christmas Days grabbing gas-station food with his colleagues. While more businesses are now starting to open on the holiday, and there is a fair amount of travel, Dickenson said it's usually a slow day for troopers.

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The holiday season sees a spike in impaired-driving cases, particularly for New Year's, but State Patrol statistics show that Christmas itself has fewer drunken-driving arrests than the average day over the past five years.

"It's just kind of another routine day," Dickenson said. "In my experience, it's usually pretty quiet. We do obviously see a lot of cars on the road, but thankfully it's one of our lower-incident holidays."

For officers, though, the day isn't a break from some of the difficult calls they respond to year-round.

"Unfortunately, we always have drug and alcohol addiction and we do run into domestic violence - family quarrels and things like that," McShane said. "Those things we deal with every day don't necessarily stop on Christmas, but it certainly does slow down."

Related Topics: POLICECHRISTMAS
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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